Shelley Burgess

Reflections of an educational learner and leader


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5 Steps to Help Your Crew Embrace Change

My friend George Couros reminds us in his book The Innovator’s Mindset  that “Change is an opportunity to do something amazing.”. I wholeheartedly agree.

In my experience, it can be a long journey for some people on the team to see the upside of the change.  Unfortunately, the reality is they often get overwhelmed by it.  As an educational leader who admittedly asked a lot of people, I often found myself in my office or in a classroom where someone on my team would confess that they were overwhelmed and didn’t think they could “do it”.  As a leader who genuinely cares about people and believes wholeheartedly in supporting my team, this was always challenging for me.

So it got me thinking… How could I respond in a way that conveys my genuine compassion for the person without letting her “off the hook”?

Over time, and after a few bumpy conversations, I found that there were five components to a successful conversation with a person who was feeling overwhelmed by the work we were trying to do:

  1. Acknowledge change can be hard. Don’t dismiss their feelings of being overwhelmed or the feelings of “I can’t do this”. They are real… treat them as such. Express understanding, demonstrate empathy and let them know you care.
  2. Remind them of the why. Revisit the reasons for the change, the best hopes for the change, the “data” that helped us decide this change was critical for our school community.  If you followed the Lead Like a PIRATE practice of involving the people impacted by the decision in the decision making process, reconnect them with the reasons they decided to support it in the first place. Be genuine, be specific, be thorough.
  3. Remind them of their value. Let them know you believe in them, that they are an essential member of the team and that we can’t do it without them. Share the confidence you have in them to do this.
  4. Offer support.  Ask “How can I help?” “What do you need from me?” “Is there something we can take off your plate?”  If they share something that you can do… Do it! Commit! Follow through and make sure they have the support they need.
  5. Thank them.  Express your gratitude for their commitment, for their perseverance, for their willingness to push through the challenges to make school AMAZING for kids.

While not foolproof, I (and leaders I have coached) have used this process many times with great success. Change IS an opportunity to do something amazing, but we also have to be wiling to coach and support our crew on the roller coaster ride that change can bring for them.

 


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Busy is not a Badge

I just finished hosting #satchatwc with my awesome co-moderator, Beth Houf.  The chat today focused on strategies to help us prioritize our time. This tweet exchange with Robert Abney and Sandy King stuck with me…

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As educators, the reality is our work is never done. There is no finish line. We add more to the “to do” list than we cross off.

We will always have more on our plates than we can tackle each day, so the real challenge is this:

How do we take control of our time?

 

Great leaders master this. They spend the majority of their time doing the work that matters most. They create systems to get the essential components of the “job” done and free up their time to do the meaningful “work”.

Like all leaders, great leaders are busy all day long, but at the end of the day…

Busy is not their badge… Making an IMPACT is!

 


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From the Bottom of Our Hearts – Thank You!

A couple of weeks ago, @BethHouf and I were thrilled (and just a bit nervous) to release our book Lead Like a PIRATE: Make School Amazing for Your Students and Staff. What an incredible, soul-searching journey this has been.  We have worked on and wrestled with this book for about eighteen months and had moments of both loving it and hating it.  We had times where we were excited to push forward and times where we thought about giving up. We grappled with what to keep in and what to leave out.

While we have had incredible conversations for years about our collective philosophies and leadership practices, there is something about taking those thoughts and putting them on paper that makes us vulnerable and is honestly a bit scary.  We are both passionate educators who love what we do, and we are both continuous learners, so sometimes what we believe today can shift and change as we learn and grow over time.  There is something so permanent and final, though, about putting our best thinking today on the pages of a book. Through the power of friendship, our love for this incredible work of being educators, and some continuous nudging from Dave, we finished our book. And then…

…we turned it over to you. We put it out into the world with our fingers and toes all crossed in anticipation of the reception it would receive. We  hoped people would connect with what we had to say and find relevance in the stories we wanted to share. And while we were hoping for the best, we were also gearing ourselves up to be prepared if people’s reactions went the other way.

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What has happened over the past couple of weeks has been nothing short of awesome. We can’t truly express the depth of our gratitude for all of you who have been sharing your thoughts, reflections and take-aways from Lead Like PIRATE on Twitter, Facebook,  Instagram, Amazon and so many other places, including an awesome live #IMMOOC chat with George Couros (@gcouros) and Katie Martin (@KatieMTLC) and the follow up chat w/co-host Tara Martin (@Tara MartinEDU).  Your support, your kind words, and your positive energy have far exceeded any expectations we had.

 

From the bottoms of our hearts – Thank you!

We hope you will continue to share and connect with us using the #LeadLAP hashtag.

And… if you are interested, Nancy Alvarez (@techwnancy) and Todd Schmidt (tsschmidty) are moderating a Voxer book study starting April, 9th. We would love to have you join us!

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Doing “What’s Best for Kids” – Hmm…

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Full disclosure before you read on… I know that what I’m about to say might rub some people the wrong way, but I hope you’ll read on and I’d love to hear your thoughts!

I don’t particularly like the phrase, I’m going to do “what’s best for kids”.  I think we need to be really mindful when we throw it around in our profession.  While I understand the positive intent of the phrase and I agree whole-heartedly that meeting the needs of students should absolutely be the primary focus of what we do in our schools and districts… I think tossing the “what’s best for kids” phrase around can be harmful to our school and district cultures.  Here’s why:

  1. If I use the phrase “I’m going to do what’s best for kids”, it is incredibly easy for the person who I am talking to to reach the conclusion that I believe that they, in fact, do not have the best interest of students in mind.  While I can acknowledge that there are times when people make decisions based solely on their own best interests, I actually think that in our profession it’s pretty rare. In my experience most educators I have worked with typically make decisions based on their belief that they are doing what’s best for kids.
  2. “I’m going to do what’s best for kids” has a finality to it that makes it hard for someone to respectfully disagree with me. It’s a “last word” phrase as opposed to a phrase that invites discussion and dialogue. After all, in our business, who can argue against doing what’s best for kids?
  3. Where does that argument stop?  Let’s say that I believe we should have a 30 minute after school reading program for struggling readers because it’s “best for kids”.  If 30 minutes is good, what about an hour… is that better? What about two hours? If a couple of hours after school in a reading program is good… wouldn’t a half day Saturday program every week be better? What about a full day?  Maybe it would be best to add four weeks… six weeks… 12 weeks to the school year for all of our struggling readers.
  4. We don’t all have the same beliefs about “what’s best for kids”, and the research can be contradictory.  I could make a case for that after school reading program being what’s “best” while one of my teachers could easily make the case that it’s “best” to have small group reading interventions during the school day so that after school, kids have time to play sports, take music lessons, or to just play and be kids.
  5. What’s best for one kid isn’t always what’s best for another.  Each child is unique in their gifts, their talents, their motivations, their quirks, their needs… A “one size fits all approach” to what’s best runs the risk of merely being average for all kids as opposed to what’s best for any one of them.

So… the challenge is this: let’s just presume that all of the educators we work with have the best interests of kids at heart.  We may disagree from time to time on what those are, but not too many committed educators show up to work each day making decisions they think will be bad for kids, so why would we want to use a phrase that might convey that we are the only ones who know best?

As an educational leader, I really do want to do what’s best for kids, but presuming that only I know what’s best is a quick way to dissolve relationships, create mistrust and erode culture.  Sometimes our ability to do what’s best for kids simply lies within our ability to inspire, influence and support the adults on our team.

 


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Start by Picking Up the Phone

pick-up-the-phoneWe talk (and complain) a lot about parent engagement and parent involvement or the lack of it in our schools and districts.  In my experience our default is to blame the parents for the lack of engagement – it’s easier than taking a look at the practices and policies we have in place at our schools. Does what we have in place actually make parents feel welcome? valued? important? I have had a few experiences over the last couple of months as a parent that make we wonder about the environment we are creating in our schools for parents.  I’m sharing them with you below, and I would love to hear your thoughts!

I actually just spent about twenty minutes of my morning trying to get the answer to one simple question at my daughter’s school. “What is the state testing window for the school this spring?”  My mom wants to take our daughter on a quick trip in May which would mean she might miss a day of school.  Before agreeing to the dates, I wanted to make sure that her absence wouldn’t fall during the State testing window.  As a former principal, I know what a grueling task it is to plan those schedules and the difficulty that comes with scheduling make-up tests for students who are absent.

So I started with the school calendar on the website and found nothing.  I went to the link they have on the site for testing and found nothing, so I called the school.  The first person who answered was a student, and I asked my question.  She placed me on hold and without anyone ever coming back on the phone to speak with me, I was transferred to a generic voicemail box.  I hung up and called again.  This time, instead of a person the standard recorded message giving me the school address, the school hours and the address to the website where I was told I should be able to find answers to most of my question were recited to me.  I was then told I could “press 1” for this office and “press 2” for that office… I think there were nine choices all together, so I started with the school counselor for students with last names “A-M”.  The phone rang four or five times and I was sent to voicemail.  I hung up, called back heard the address, school hours, website information and number options again.  I pressed the button for the second counselor “N-Z” as I just had a generic question anyone should be able to answer. I was sent to voicemail.  I hung up and called back.  I tried the attendance office, both assistant principals, the principal’s assistant and every other extension except for the cafeteria.  Every attempt was sent to voicemail. I kept trying as my mom was sitting with me and hoping to confirm the dates.  Eventually on one of my calls another person answered instead of the machine.  I asked my question and was placed on hold for a few minutes.  The gentleman who had answered came back on the phone and told me testing was “during the month of May”. When I explained my situation and asked if he knew when in May, he didn’t know and told me I should check the website.  I let him know I had done that and nothing was posted.  He told me I should call back later, “like maybe after 2:00”. He didn’t offer to take a message and have someone call me back.  So I will try to call again in another 3 or 4 hours.

I’m not sure I would be writing this post if it were just this one instance, but it comes pretty quickly on the heels of an experience I had with my son’s school a few weeks ago.  I had received a “robocall” and an email from them reminding me about my son’s absence the day before and informing me I needed to clear the absence. I appreciated the reminder.  The email was one that did not allow replies, so at about 1:00 that afternoon I called the school to let them know my son had been sick. The phone rang seven or eight times, and no one picked up, not even a machine directing me to “press 1”, so I waited a few minutes and called again – the phone just continued to ring – no answer and no machine for me to just leave a message about the absence. So I went to the website to see if there was either a direct number for the attendance office or an email for the attendance secretary.  Neither were listed on the site.  I called the school again, and still no answer.  I tried a few more times over the course of the afternoon to reach someone on the phone.  I never was able to get ahold of anyone nor could I leave a message.

Eventually that evening, I made a decision that I would email one of the assistant principals… I honestly wasn’t contacting her to complain.  I have met her a few times, she has always been very responsive, she is a PIRATE fan, and I know she cares about the school. I reached out because if it were my school and a parent had been trying to call all afternoon without getting through, I would want to know.  So I went on the school website, clicked on the link for the assistant principal’s email and shared the experience I had just had.  Later that night, I received a response to my email from a principal at another school in the district… she was very nice, but also let me know that I had the wrong email address and that for whatever reason the link on the website for the assistant principal at my son’s school went to her inbox at another school, so my initial email to the assistant principal never went through to her.

The next morning,  I tried to call the school again and I still had no answer and no machine.  I live very close to the school, so I ultimately just decided to drive down to the school and go to the office to clear my son’s absence since I was having no luck calling or emailing.

While I have others I could share, the final incident I will highlight is one that also happened at my son’s high school.  He is typically a straight “A” student with excellent citizenship grades, so calls from his teachers are rare (those phone calls home to share something good your child has done haven’t really caught on in our neighborhood). So I was surprised when he shared with me that we might be getting a phone call from one of his teachers.  We were in the car with my son and a few of his friends who all happen to be in this same class.  We asked them what happened and they proceeded to share their version of the story which apparently involved all three of them, so I was well prepared to talk with the teacher.  The phone call did in fact come that night, but to my surprise, it was not the teacher on the other end of the line when I picked up the phone.  It was a call that his teacher apparently scheduled through the automated system.  In a robotic voice I was told, “This is Ms. _____. Your child was (pause) disrespectful in class”.  That was the extent of my parent phone call home.  No teacher, no description of what happened, no opportunity for me to hear her version of what happened (as I’m almost certain it would have differed from the one three teenage boys told us), no opportunity to discuss consequences or for me to offer support.  Just a “robocall”.

I’m sharing these stories not to blast the schools that my own children attend… they actually have wonderful people who work in their schools, but I’m sharing them because I think they really highlight a problem that we as school and district leaders need to be cognizant of when we are establishing policies, procedures and practices in our schools. Situations like the ones I described above don’t make me want to be more involved as a parent… they actually do just the opposite and have caused me to believe that communicating with the schools my children attend is actually a rather frustrating experience.  They don’t leave me feeling that the schools actually want to talk to me or want to engage me… they feel instead like there is a firewall system designed to keep me out.  I understand that schools are hectic places and people are busy doing their work, but isn’t being responsive to parents part of that work? We say we want more involvement, more engagement, but I wonder if what we really mean is that we want parents to do what we tell them to do according to our rules at a time that’s convenient for us.

I am certain that the installation of all of the robotic message systems have been put in place with the intent of communicating more and with the intent of being helpful to both staff and parents, but the reality is that I wonder if we have taken them too far.  Rather than helping, they have created extremely frustrating situations and in these instances at least, I have felt like communication has gotten worse rather than better… more impersonal rather than personal.

Dave and I talk about  the importance of creating experiences for students and staff in our classrooms and schools, but shouldn’t we be creating them for our parents too?  And while I would LOVE for our neighborhood schools to embrace the use of social media, create YouTube Channels and share video newsletters and so many other wonderful strategies we know some schools are using to engage parents… Maybe it starts with simply picking up the phone.

Some questions to consider:

  • Do you know the user experience for phone calls coming into your school?
  • If you have students answering phones, have they been trained in customer service techniques?
  • Does the experience parents get when they visit or call your school make them feel welcome and more comfortable doing so again?
  • Is contact information easily accessible and updated regularly on your website?
  • Do contact links go to the right places?
  • Are important dates easily accessible?
  • How many robocalls go out from your school each week? day? hour?
  • Do you know how teachers use the robocall system in your school? Have you communicated expectations about use?
  • Is the way you use your robocall system making communication better or worse? Have you asked your parents?
  • What’s one step you could take to ensure customer service for parents gets better at your school next week?


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The Innovator’s Mindset – Worldwide MOOC

Dave and I would like to personally invite you to participate in what will surely be an incredible book study starting on September 17th.3d-im

In less than one year since the release,  The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros has been a complete game changer in education. This book has sparked powerful conversations, prodded people and systems out of complacency, and driven real change in ways that are truly astounding. It is already being used as a text in multiple university education departments and book studies have been conducted literally worldwide. Over 200 people have given it a 5 Star review on Amazon and thousands of books have been sold each month. The positive response to George’s work has been overwhelming. To say that we are proud to be his publisher is an understatement.

But not one to be content with this success, George is creating an opportunity that is truly NEXT LEVEL.

Starting on September 17th, The Innovator’s Mindset MOOC is kicking off an experience that will be unlike anything ever offered in the way of a book study. It is specially designed to not just study the book, but to move way beyond that into implementation and true innovation.

MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course and that is exactly what this will be.

Massive: Well over 1,000 educators will be participating by the time this is ready to start.

Open: Anybody can join. Just get the book and use any or all of the various methods to participate. In fact, there are already educators from OVER 18 countries signed up!

Online: There is a Twitter component using the hashtag #IMMOOC, there is a Facebook Group, a blog site, and there will even be YouTube Live interviews with influential educators. Can’t make it at the time of the live video? No problem…all of them will be archived and shared!

Course: This so much MORE than a book study. It is truly a fully developed six week course put together by George and the amazing, innovative educator, Katie Martin (@KatieMTLC). Every participant is also encouraged to share their learning using blogs and/or video and to develop an innovation project. (Want to follow the writings of fellow participants? Here is how.) This is not about surface level platitudes…this about diving in DEEP and making a true impact!!!

Please share this opportunity with everyone you know and prod, push, and cajole educators in your system to join you! This could be exactly what your leadership group needs to change the conversation and truly shift the paradigm to one of true innovation. As George says in The Innovator’s Mindset, “Change is the opportunity to do something cw34er7wqaeo1zt-jpg-largeamazing.” Don’t let this opportunity pass you by!

Read all details on the blog right HERE or go STRAIGHT TO THE SIGN UP PAGE HERE!

Thanks!

 


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Why Every Parent (and Educator) Should Play Pokemon Go

IMG_2086Over the past two weeks, Pokemon Go has taken the world by storm.  Over 25 million people have downloaded the app and are out in our neighborhoods.  Players are EVERYWHERE hunting for Pokemon, setting lures to draw them in, battling for gyms and recuperating needed supplies at PokeStops. By now even if you aren’t playing, you know the rest of us when you see us… we are walking around everywhere looking up and down at our phones and stopping once in awhile to flick our fingers across our screens.  We congregate  in certain areas because we have heard they are hot spots for catching rare Pokemon, and you see our fists pump accompanied by our enthusiastic “YES!” when we catch something new.

I admit it… I am a highly educated 45 year old woman, and I am a Pokemon Go addict, and glad I am.  I know I’m not alone… I’ve mingled with some of my peers recently who also make those sideways glances at their phones to see if a Pokemon has crossed their path! This weekend at my son’s lacrosse tournament, I actually chose where to sit and watch the games because it was situated right in between two PokeStops! I went from level 14 to level 16 over the course of the weekend!

My husband Dave and I downloaded the app on the second day of its release, and I haven’t looked back (unless of course, I need to look back to capture a Pikachu). So now that I have been playing for two weeks and have reached Level 17, here are the three things I’m loving most about playing Pokemon Go (and I think you will too)

Learning together:  Both my children (I have a 12 year old daughter and a fifteen year old son) and ALL of their friends are playing, and I can guarantee you all of your students are playing too.  What has been so awesome as a parent, is that my children and I have been learning the language and the rules of the game together.  I have constantly been engaged in conversation after conversation with my kids and their friends about the game.  They are teaching me stuff, and I am teaching them.  We are comparing our Pokemon, teaching each other new tricks and strategies and collectively we are getting better. From them I have learned things like how to delete items to get more storage space, the “pidgey  hack”, and the best times to use my lucky eggs… they have made me better!  Putting myself in the role of a learner with my kids is a wonderful place to be.

Connecting and Collaborating:  What an awesome opportunity this has been to connect and collaborate with my own children and their friends.  While it is often the case that when I drive a group of teens around town, I’m simply background noise if I talk to them.  Now I’m an engaged partner in the conversations.  They want to know which Pokemon I have caught and what their CP levels are… they want to show me their phones and celebrate their latest catch. We share genuine excitement when we come across a rare Pokemon, take over a gym, or hatch an egg, and we commiserate with each other when our screens freeze or the game won’t load.  We have also had serious discussions about how we think the game could improve.  (Niantic… If you are reading this, we unanimously agree that their need to be additional ways to earn stardust, and we also strongly believe that when you transfer higher CP Pokemon or evolved Pokemon, you should get more candy!)  What a treat these types of conversations are for those of us who parent (or educate) kids at this age.

Getting outside and exploring our neighborhood:  Because we are all on a quest for Pokemon, my children have been willing to go anywhere with me.  In the past two weeks we have been to Balboa Park, the Coronado ferry landing, the Oceanside pier, Chicano Park and many other places we wouldn’t have been this summer, some of which we have never even been to before.  I even think I will be able to convince my kids to go to the zoo with me next week. We have walked and hiked and sometimes just sat together for thirty minutes chatting while we drop a lure and wait to see what comes our way.   The game is getting us outside allowing us to explore new places and revisit old stomping grounds.  We have shared memories of times we have been there before, and we are creating new ones now.  The game is causing us to ask each other, where do we want to go next?

I have heard many adults over the past few weeks complain about the game and the “damage” it is doing to our kids and our society, and I wholeheartedly disagree.  It has been a wonderful opportunity for me to be a part of something that matters to my kids, and we are having a blast playing together.  If you are a parent or a teacher and haven’t given it a shot, try it out… I think you’ll be glad you did!

Happy hunting!